This is cross posted by Anne, who blogs at Anne’s Opinions
This morning, as is my wont, I had a look-through the Guardian to see what new anti-Israel diatribes they had come up with overnight. Never fear, there were plenty of articles. Check with CiF Watch for details.
Imagine my surprise then, when I came upon an article by a certain Tim Llewellyn (more about him at the end) entitled “BBC is ‘confusing cause and effect’ in its Israel coverage”. “Finally!” I thought to myself. The Guardian has finally come around to our way of thinking and have realised the inherent bias in the BBC’s coverage of Israel. I settled down to read the item and enjoy a bit of schadenfreude at the BBC’s expense.
And then reality hit me like a bucket of cold water.
The article is one of the most biased anti-Israel screeds I have ever had the misfortune to read. I never thought I would have to come to the defence of the BBC but… here goes.
It starts straight out with a bald-faced distortion stated as fact:
However, the BBC coverage of Israel and Palestine, where another state continually kills and oppresses Arabs, is replete with imbalance and distortion.
At this stage I still thought he meant Arabs oppressing Palestinians, until the next paragraph brought me up short with nasty little shock.
I covered the Middle East for the BBC from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s, and am aggrieved by my ex-employer’s continuing inability to describe in a just and contextualised way the conflict between military occupier and militarily occupied. There is no attempt to properly convey cause and effect, to report the misery, violence and pillage that demean and deny freedom to the Palestinians and provoke their (limited) actions.
Hyperbole much? The exaggeration, not to mention outright distortion and untruth in these words is quite breath-taking. This is how the author describes Israeli self-defence.
It turns out that a book has been written detailing the BBC’s bias in their Middle East reporting (with which we can all agree). But the authors’ grievance, with which Llewellyn agrees, is that the BBC is much too pro-Israel and ignores or perverts the Arab or Palestinian side.
Greg Philo and Mike Berry, in their book More Bad News from Israel, prove by textual analysis and follow-up interviews with viewers and listeners that I am right – and so are an increasing number of people who are becoming aware that the BBC sells them short on Israel.
I couldn’t agree more, except it is the pro-Israel camp that are sold short.
Here is a list of some of their complaints, and when you recover from your laughter, I suggest you check in with any of the links in my sidebar (especially Honest Reporting, CiF Watch, and Elder of Ziyon amongst others) to see how the reporting was really biased – against Israel.
They find that the Israeli explanation of why it went to war on a mainly defenceless Gazan population is the one broadly accepted by the BBC. It was a “response” to Palestinian rockets. The Palestinian case, …, was rarely put, if at all.
The BBC repeatedly stressed the word [Israeli] “retaliation”, and also implied that police stations bombed by the Israelis were military targets, describing other casualties as “civilian”. It described these civilian installations as “targets”. Newspapers such as the Guardian did point out the distinction.
Wow. Who knew the Guardian was worse than the Beeb?
Israel’s official view is given as fact, they say, but the Palestinian view, on the rare occasions it is found at all, is not. Israelis “state”, Palestinians “claim”.
In fact it is most frequently the exact opposite.
When the BBC and ITV did start reporting the horrific civilian casualties in Gaza and the use of phosphorus, Israeli spokespersons were immediately on hand to deny, explain or obfuscate. The Palestinians, especially Hamas, were rarely able to answer allegations.
Once again they have reversed reality.
The authors of the book continued on with their research and made some fascinating discoveries.
Philo and Berry quote the BBC correspondent Paul Adams, a Middle East expert: what is missing from the coverage, he says, is the view that the Palestinians are engaged in a war of national liberation, trying to throw off an occupying force. Any Israeli casualty is headline news, shown in high quality images. BBC teams are based in West Jerusalem, de facto Israeli territory, and are on hand. Arab casualties may be shown in reports of a funeral, usually agency film, the victim anonymous. The Israelis, it seems, are for the BBC “people like us”. The Arabs are “the other”.
Note the “de facto Israeli territory” – as if they do not really accept Jerusalem, even West Jerusalem, as Israeli territory. They are in complete denial of reality.
I also disagree completely with their depiction of the BBC. Israeli casualties are ignored or belittled, the Palestinians are always the eternal victims. But if in some alternate universe the BBC did report on Israel this way, it would be to their credit because that is what the reality is. And if the Arabs are regarded as “the other”, perhaps that reflects their lack of civilisation and not the bias of the BBC.
Philo and Berry go on to interview viewers and listeners, all in higher education. They find that these focus groups were largely unaware of the Israeli occupation, often believing the Palestinians are the occupiers.
This is one of the funniest lines I have ever read on the Middle East conflict. Which higher education facilities did they visit? End-of-the-World University? South-Pole College? The boycott and sanctions movement (BDS) against Israel, the Apartheid Weeks, the anti-Zionist posters, all advertised and heavily promoted on university campuses worldwide; the problems caused to student Jewish Societies, all these are considered pro-Israel activity? I find myself speechless.
For example, the BBC consistently describes illegal Israeli settlements as “held to be illegal”. But they are illegal. Even the Foreign Office says so.
The authors sound so petty and childish here. The fact remains that no matter what the Foreign Office says or believes, for a change the BBC is in the right. Or at least nearer to correct than the FO.
Why is BBC reporting like this? The book addresses this in Chapter 4. In my view, the rot set in during 2001, after 9/11. Israel and its friends were quick to capitalise on “terror” and “Arabs” and massively enhanced their propaganda effort here,
Ah, it’s those wicked Israelis capitalizing on Arab terror. It does not occur to them that Western reporters might find more affinity with Israelis who have suffered under terrorism for so long rather than Arabs who promote such terrorism against Western targets.
The BBC’s main Middle East bureau in west Jerusalem is liable to Israeli pressure, and it is in Israel that the BBC perspective on the regional conflict is formed.
Hmm. I suppose the BBC’s main Middle East bureau in Beirut, Damascus, Riyadh or Cairo are not susceptible to Arab pressure. Nah, couldn’t possibly be.
Perhaps the most overwhelming distortion of the BBC in its coverage of Israel and Palestine is what I term “spurious equivalence”: that the Palestinians and Israelis are two equal sides “at war” over “disputed” territory and may the best man win. Or, come on chaps, shouldn’t reason prevail? The BBC knows that the Palestinians are a people fighting for independence, but its coverage does not tell it like it is.
It would make a change if the BBC really did accord Israel some equivalence to the Palestinians. As it is, Israel is usually cast in the wicked villain’s role and the Palestinians are the innocent victims, pure as the driven snow.
In 2006, an independent panel appointed by the BBC governors assessed impartiality in coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Their review came after many complaints and the first edition of this book, which examined in similar form the BBC’s distorted reporting of the Al-Aqsa (second) intifada and the subsequent Israeli bombardments and invasion of the cities of the West Bank.
The commission confirmed many of the Philo/Berry criticisms: “BBC output does not consistently give a full and fair account of the conflict. In some ways the picture is incomplete and, in that sense, misleading.”
If the BBC report indeed considered their reporting too pro-Israel, then shame on them, but it still does not reflect the truth.
While writing this post I have felt like Alice through the Looking Glass, looking into an upside down world. I find it fascinating that there are people out there who really believe this clearly refutable tripe.
As to Tim Llewellyn himself, the author of this piece, all becomes clear when you read what the BBC had this to say at the end of the article:
Although Tim Llewellyn was indeed a BBC correspondent some years ago, we note that he subsequently was active for a period with the Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU).
Honest Reporting has some more background on his biases.